July 2014: Q&A with Peter Walton, Project Director

Pak Peter Indonesia Mar.31 029Cowater is currently implementing the five-year Support to Indonesia’s Islands of Integrity Program for Sulawesi (SIPS) project, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (Government of Canada). SIPS, with the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (a bilateral project), works with its ten partner governments in two provinces in Sulawesi to strengthen the corruption prevention capabilities of the Commission and to reduce opportunities for corruption within provincial and local governments.

Peter Walton is Cowater’s Project Director based in Jakarta, Indonesia. In his 3 years on the project, Mr. Walton has established three project offices; recruited a team of 8 professional/technical staff; and managed the identification, sub-contracting, and supervision of the numerous additional technical experts required to deliver this project.

Mr. Walton sat down with Cowater’s Head Office to provide some insights into the SIPS project and on the challenges and triumphs of international project management.

Cowater Connects (CC): After three years as Project Director on SIPS, what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned that you will apply on future projects?

 Peter Walton (PW): Every project is a learning opportunity.  Being flexible with your approach and expectations while adhering as closely as possible to the original project intentions is a useful strategy.  Sometimes what may seem clear at the time of the inception mission does not translate into reality in the field at project start-up and during implementation.  Building trust with your partners – while a cliché – is very important.  Recognition of in-country expertise is also key.  Typically we are the newcomers, the outsiders, and while we may bring a specific skill set there is no substitute for the expertise, professionalism, and insight of our local team members and staff.

CC: What is the most rewarding output your team has accomplished as part of SIPS mandate?

PW: The most rewarding output to date has been to witness a change in behaviour, a renewed pride in work among government staff in our targeted service areas. Efforts to provide a sound regulatory foundation revisit and codify standard operating procedures and upgrade skills and expertise has resulted in a renewed pride in job and office, and an improved relationship with the public, the ultimate client of government services.  A shift in approach from the directive connotations of “governance” to an informed service orientation is a welcome output.

CC: What have been some of the more challenging SIPS project objectives to achieve? What made them challenging? How did you overcome those challenges, as a team?

PW: Change management – shifting the mindset of elected officials and senior executives at the local government level – has been one of the more challenging project objectives.  Corruption is a real challenge within government and this affects not only the outputs of government programs but also the work ethic and the pride that people can take in their job.  Creating a physical and social environment that supports and encourages transparency, integrity, initiative, and innovation is rewarding not just for the project but for the individuals involved and for the community that benefits from larger, better resourced, and better directed government expenditures.

CC: What led you to a career in Development? Specifically, why have you focused your career on anti-corruption and good governance focused projects?

PW: The challenge and intrigue of development work and the opportunity to make a difference and contribute to something much bigger than myself led to my first overseas job as the Director of the bilateral India-Canada Environment Facility (ICEF) in New Delhi.  Later, I served with a rain forest conservation and development project in South America that promoted sustainable management beneficial to indigenous people and the nation as a whole.  Subsequent development work had increased explicit emphasis on good governance.  Anti-corruption is simply the logical next step/off-shoot in ensuring effective, transparent, and efficient allocation of human and capital resources for maximum public benefit.

CC: Looking back through your career, are there projects you have participated on that have made larger impacts on the progress of the recipient countries?

PW: Each project has had its challenges as well as its share of successes.  India-Canada Environment Facility (ICEF) has had long lasting benefits for poor and marginalized people by improving environmental quality through agro-forestry and shifting cultivation cooperatives and community-based management of mangroves. Central to Iwokrama – the rainforest centre in Guyana – was the creation and empowerment of community-based democratic organizations with the goal of co-management of resources and upward linkages to pro-poor policy development at the national level.   Working in Aceh, one year after the tsunami, the local government assistance project not only improved budgeting and planning procedures, park planning and waste management with partner governments but also rehabilitated the one library in town which stands today as a vital and well-patronized model of how learning can be embraced by the community when made interesting and accessible.

I hope the legacy of SIPS will be equally significant in creating a mindset that rejects corruption and directs needed public funding into vital areas such as health, education, social programs and infrastructure.

CC: What are the goals for the SIPS project in 2014?

PW: Through 2014 we hope to successfully fulfill the action plans outlined for our three key service areas – population administration services, one stop service for licenses, and permits and procurement – through completion of Human Resources Development (HRD) strengthening; targeted training in procurement practices and license and permit issuance; as well as IT and infrastructure upgrades and service excellence.  We are piloting new tools for the Anti-Corruption Commission to diagnose and address “red flag” or “hotspot” areas and plan to support opportunities for both in-house and external corruption prevention staff training in public financial management, corruption prevention, and community education.